Imam Asim Hafiz

Imam Asim Hafiz, the Islamic Advisor to the Armed Forces and Ministry of Defence, reflects on his visit to Srebrenica.

“I would like to begin by thanking Dr Azmi. He has certainly worked conscientiously to establish this sensitive, eye-opening and soul-searching project. Initiatives such as this are ‘prophetic’ and do not come without their challenges which require moral courage, perseverance, patience and sincerity.

In my understanding the ‘Remembering Srebrenica’ initiative is not just a service to the people of Bosnia – it is a service to humanity at large. Many of those in our delegation have already written and spoken about the harrowing nature of our experience and how it has touched us in similar but also different ways. I was personally shocked and ashamed at how little I actually knew about what had happened there. Additionally, I am disappointed with myself at how I have let the comfortable lifestyle that I have lived desensitise me to actually really feeling empathy and the pain and plight of those undergoing persecution and oppression. I thought I understood and knew, but this trip actually taught me how much I don’t know and don’t really understand. It made me aware of how much more I have to do but more importantly how much we as a society need to do to make the world a better place.

My biggest frustration of this whole experience is that the genocide need not have happened. Listening to the mothers of Srebrenica and other Bosniaks that we met it was clear to me that they have still not been able to overcome the feeling of abandonment by the very people they put their trust in and considered to be their protectors. With all the other tensions currently around the world this sense of frustration and concern becomes more poignant. After the Second World War we said ‘never again’ and then within decades we experience the greatest single war crime in the continent of Europe since 1945. We have to remember Srebrenica, we have to remember the Holocaust and we have to remember every genocide. We have to keep remembering them because we do not seem to learn from them. We have to remember them because our current and future generations need to know what hate, separation, isolation and alienation can do to humanity. The UN must be more vigilant, be quick to understand the dynamics and should exercise consistency in the way it does business. Edmund Burke’s words continue to ring in my ears, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. There were over 30,000 UN troops in Bosnia at the time of the genocide and they were not able prevent it.

However, I do understand that this should not only be about blame or accountability. Martin describes this very well, “there was no monopoly of suffering and there was no monopoly of evil in the war’. The mothers of Srebrenica also explained that they are teaching their youth not to hate and to forgive because that’s what makes good men different from bad men. The ‘Lessons from Srebrenica Visit’ has to be about looking forward into the future with an eye on the past. The lessons must produce reconciliation, forgiveness, peace and stability, addressing hateful behaviour and xenophobia, education and most of all the importance of the universality of humanity. We have to make this happen individually as people of faith, nationally as a country with a conscience and strong moral compass and internationally as a force for good.”